How to complete the W-8BEN-E Form for Australian Companies

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The IRS seems to be over just making the life of Americans a misery and they have decided the whole world should experience their special attention. If you are a foreign business with no presence in the USA, but you have US customers, you need to complete and provide your customers with a copy of the W-8BEN-E Certificate of Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting (Entities).

This form is eight long pages of IRSese with such easy to understand terms as “Nonparticipating FFI (including a limited FFI or an FFI related to a Reporting IGA FFI other than a registered deemed-compliant FFI or participating FFI)”. If anyone know what this means please post, because nobody at the IRS seems to know – at least nobody who answers the phones.

When faced with completing this form for the first time it is near impossible to know what you need to fill in and the IRS instructions are as clear as mud. To save other poor Australians the nightmare of completing the W-8BEN-E form here is my step-by-step guide for standard Australian companies (i.e. those owned and run by Australians) of what you need to do.*

*Disclaimer. I am not a USA tax lawyer or accountant! Use this guide as a starting point for knowing what you need to do and always consult a professional. Do not use these instructions if you are a US citizen or have a US company branch.

Edit. The IRS updated their form in 2016 so I have updated the instructions. Amazingly they have made the form even more complicated – there really is no form too complicated that the IRS can’t make it worse.

Edit 2. Once again the IRS has updated the form in 2017 and so the tread mill continues. I am sure everyone will be surprised to learn it is even more complex.

Step 1. Get the W-8BEN-E form
1. You can download the W-8BEN-E from the IRS website. If the form has moved then just google for it – the IRS seems to like to move forms around on their website fairly regularly.
2. Print out the form as it is easier to fill it in by hand and scan.

Step 2. Complete Part I
Question 1. Write your full business name (eg. “xyz pty ltd”)
Question 2. Write “Australia”
Question 3. Leave blank
Question 4. Tick “Corporation”
Question 5. Tick only “Active NFFE. Complete Part XXV”
Question 6. Write your registered business address in Australia
Question 7. Write your mailing address in Australia. If it is the same as 6. then just write “As Above”.
Question 8. Leave blank
Question 9a. Leave blank
Question 9b. For “Foreign TIN” write in your company’s ABN.
Edit. Technically, your company’s tax file number is the TIN, but some sources suggest that you supply your ABN, not TFN (others say TFN). I am much happier to supply people with my ABN rather than TFN. I suspect in the end it does not matter too much since the ATO has the ability to crossmatch your ABN and TFN – the whole point of this form is for the IRS and ATO to share data on company income.
Question 10. Leave blank.

That is the easy page 1 taken care of! Now to page 2.

Step 2. Complete Part III
Question 14a. Tick the check box and write “Australia”.
Question 14b. Tick the check box “The beneficial owner derives the item (or items) of income for which the treaty benefits are claimed, and, if applicable, meets the requirements of the treaty provision dealing with limitation on benefits. The following are types of limitation on benefits provisions that may be included in an applicable tax treaty (check only one; see instructions):”
On the 14b. sub-question choose: “Company with an item of income that meets active trade or business test”. This is assuming most of your business activity is in Australia.
Question 14c. Leave blank
Question 15. Write “Article 7, Paragraph 1” for the claiming provisions line; “Zero” for the % rate; and “Business Profit” for the type of income line. For the explanation write “Australian entity with no US permanent establishment deriving business profit not subject to withholding tax under the USA-Australian tax treaty. Skip to page 7.
Edit. For non-Australian companies you should be able to find the corresponding article number for your country’s tax treaty with the USA (the treaties are all listed on the IRS website). You will need to read through your tax treaty to find the right article to use (look for the article concerning “business profit”). For example, in the UK-USA tax treaty the article number is the same as Australia’s (Article 7).

Step 3. Complete Part XXV
Question 39. Tick the check box (assuming the three points are true which should be the case if you are a standard Australian company).
Skip to page 8.

Step 4. Complete Part XXX
Sign the form, print your name, and write the date with dashes. Don’t forget to use the crazy USA system of putting the month first.
Tick the box that says that you have the capacity to sign (assuming you do).

Step 5. Scan
Scan the document. To keep the size manageable scan it as a B&W document at 200 dpi and save as a pdf file (it should be under 500 KB). You can then email this when you send invoices to your USA customers. The form is supposed to be valid for 3 years.

/s Now wasn’t that simple! Thank you IRS for making this form so easy and providing such clear and simple to follow instructions /s.

169 comments on “How to complete the W-8BEN-E Form for Australian Companies
  1. You just saved me hours of stress! I’ve done the ‘individual’ W8 form before but this was the first time doing the more complex ‘company’ form, and the only other help I could find online was aimed at trusts, investors etc. – not for a regular Australian company doing work in Aus for a US based client. Daniel you are a star!

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to post these instructions! You deserve all your wishes to come true.

  3. Legend. Filled this in in 5 minutes. Would have taken me 5 weeks to understand what the hell all of that meant!

  4. Hi Daniel

    If opening accounts with different stock brokers to buy shares – do i need a different W8 with each.

    I already have a W8 with Merrill’s and a new broker wants me to do another.

    I dont want to confuse or upset the IRS by running multiple W8’s if that is not the way they like it

  5. Hi Josh

    As I mentioned in post I am not a tax lawyer, but the W8-BEN-E is meant to be given to each supplier. I give out our W8 to each of our customers.

  6. Outstanding effort mate!

    I flog pretty cheap software from Oz via a website, and the number of folks asking for this form has been a real pain – I’ve been turning them away until now, but your fine guide has allowed me to scare up a little more business :-). Many thanks!

  7. Fantastic Article – Thanks Daniel.

    Quick Q – does this affect any of the amount we get paid? e.g. will the ATO or the IRS require some other kind of weird withholding?

    I read somewhere something about 15% if this form is filled out – or is this just for investments?

    The IRS really don’t want to help their people out eh?

  8. Daniel all I can tell you is my experience which is if you give this document to your customers you get the full amount. Of course you still have to give the ATO their pound of flesh, but that is another post.

  9. Thanks Daniel….this saved me hours.

    If only I could get back the hours already spent trying to make sense of this form.

    Not that it helps……… but NFFI terms as found on IRS website :

    Financial institution.
    A financial institution generally means an entity that is a depository institution, custodial institution, investment entity, or an insurance company (or holding company of an insurance company) that issues cash value insurance or annuity contracts. See Regulations section 1.1471-5(e).

    Foreign financial institution (FFI).
    A foreign financial institution (FFI) generally means a foreign entity that is a financial institution.

    Nonparticipating FFI.
    A nonparticipating FFI means an FFI that is not a participating FFI, deemed-compliant FFI, or exempt beneficial owner.

    Participating FFI.
    A participating FFI is an FFI (including a reporting Model 2 FFI covered by an FFI agreement) that has agreed to comply with the terms of an FFI agreement. The term participating FFI also includes a QI branch of a U.S. financial institution, unless such branch is a reporting Model 1 FFI.

    Intergovernmental agreement (IGA).
    An intergovernmental agreement (IGA) means a Model 1 IGA or a Model 2 IGA.

  10. Thanks heaps for the article; very helpful.

    Not sure if maybe the form has been updated recently or something, but the version I have differs from your instructions slightly in two parts.

    The first being Part III, 14(b): the text on the form is slightly different to what you have listed. The second, being the signature section is Part XXIX.

    I’m sure they just updated the form, but I thought you might like to know to keep the article up to date.

    Thanks again for putting up this incredibly helpful post!

  11. I will take a look – the IRS loves to change this form for no reason.

    Edit. The text has changed for section 14.b but the signature section (certification) is still XXX. Check that you have the latest version of the form which as of May 2017 is Rev. April 2016.

  12. I can’t explain how much easier this article has made my life today – it’s hard enough dealing with one lot of baffling tax regulations let alone two! thank you thank you thank you

  13. This writeup is extremely helpful. But I’m still confused about Line 14b, where you only check the first box. It also asks to check another box (if applicable) related to provisions for limitation on benefits. Since you don’t mention checking any other boxes, are these provisions handled entirely by the answer to Line 15?

  14. Hi Geoff

    As I mentioned in the post I am not a tax lawyer or accountant, but you should just need to provide the details as mentioned in the post. Of course this is assuming you are completing for a normal Australian company.

  15. Daniel – you are a winner. That was perfect. So easy to follow. Thank you for taking the time to put it together and keep it updated.

  16. Daniel, when I was faced with wading through this paperwork I wondered whether it was worth it. Who has time to read and decipher? Thankfully you did.

  17. Dan the Man… thanks so much… i would never have been able to work that shit out. I don’t know if what you told us to do is right for me or not… but i got it done and trust your work. Cheers bro

  18. Thanks for the information.
    I am a sole trader with an Australian ABN. The IRS do not seam to know the difference and keep telling me to fill this form out. Would i still tick the corporation box as there nothing else?

  19. Hi Daniel, just curious when asked for digital version of a supporting document what did you supply? Im not sure what they mean?

  20. Is there a postal address you can send the form to? I received one by email and don’t know if it is a scam.

  21. You don’t send it anywhere – you give it to the company you send your invoice to. It is for them to keep on record if the IRS audits them.

  22. Kate me either. There is no supporting documents that you need to supply with the W8-BEN-E form. The company that asked you for this form might also need other information from you, but this is not something I can say anything about.

  23. Thanks Daniel, You just saved me a tonne of time. I only wish I’d found your instructions the first time I stuffed it up.

  24. Hi Daniel, thanks so much for such a great work! A few more questions. Is there a difference if “Excepted nonfinancial start-up company” used instead of “Active NFFE”? Also, the most important question is what happens if my country has no tax treaty with the US. Do I pay taxes to the IRS?(I cannot find a clear response anywhere).

  25. re 14b
    someone has previously asked the same.
    having ticked the box do I need to tick any of the other boxes between 14b and 14c.
    I am non resi us citizen with 50% holding in uk company which does real estate investment in the uk solely.
    thnx
    sam

  26. Hi Ellie

    For you first question I don’t know. In regards your second you don’t have to pay taxes to the IRS, but your customer may need to withhold a section of your payment and send it to the IRS. You really need to speak a tax professional.

  27. Hi Sam

    If you are a US citizen then everything changes. You need to talk to a tax professional. My guide is just for vanilla Australian companies.

  28. Thanks for the advice Daniel. I might also add that if you don’t complete the form properly in the first instance ie inadvertently don’t tick one of the boxes – your form will be rejected, your pp account will still say you have submitted the form though, and there is no way to resubmit the form via your account. The rejection advice is issued from a no reply email address. Contacting customer service, I was advised to send the form to a specific email address – this was a dead end; the new submission was ignored. Also uploaded the individual pages to an (again advised by pp) ‘identity update’ part of my account – saw each page uploaded, yet again was rejected because (apparently) all the pages weren’t there. The customer no-service person had said he would call me back to confirm receipt of both forms of upload (never did), but my email server confirmed they had received the submission via that avenue. End result – the account has been seized – but not before (luckily) I pulled all the funds out and made alternative arrangements via an Aus based payment gateway. Have now delinked my business websites and accounting system from using paypal directly and they are definitely NOT ‘paypal preferred’ any more.

  29. Thank You Thank You Thank You Daniel, you have made my Month. I have spent so much time on this craziness . My next move was to find a US based Accounting firm but I found you instead. Quick and easy. Your instructions that is NOT the W-8BEN-E form from hell!

  30. Thank you so very, very much – saved me hours of time & stress. Very much appreciate your generosity in taking the time to do this for others.

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